Back to Fear Street – Halloween Party (Fear Street, #8)

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Back to Fear Street – Halloween Party (Fear Street, #8)

It’s July and ninety degrees outside – what better time for a Halloween party?  October. That’s a much better time. But our imaginations aren’t bound by such restrictions, so on with the show!  This month’s outing is Halloween Party, and it’s all about and mainly takes place at a Halloween party.  I was really looking forward to this book because I figured a Halloween party would be the perfect setting for some Fear Street hijinks.  But I have to say I was pretty disappointed. This book has an overall rating of 4/5 stars on Goodreads so it’s pretty well-received, but I gave it a 1/5.  I had the twist pretty much figured out by page eleven and not because of my finely tuned intuition but because a character pretty much lays it all out. I don’t really know if I’m about to spoil anything since it’s spelled out so early but just in case….

SPOILERS AHEAD.

Let’s see if you can figure it out. So by page sixteen we know the following – (1) the new girl in school, Justine Cameron, invites only nine people from Shadyside High to an all-night Halloween party, including our main character Terry Ryan and his girlfriend Niki Meyer; (2) these nine people know of Justine but aren’t actually friends with her; (3) the party takes place in the Cameron mansion where Justine lives with her uncle – the mansion is located just beyond the Fear Street Cemetery and is rumored to be haunted; (4) Justine’s parents are out of the picture because, as one character says, they’re “dead or divorced or something”; and (5) Justine tells the guests that it’s not the kind of party where dates are allowed.  I don’t know about you, but at this point I said to myself, “So her parents are probably dead, these kids had something to do with it, and she’s gonna get back at them at her party.” I didn’t know the specifics, but I figured that was the plot twist. Turns out I was right. Once I had the plot twist figured out, reading the rest of the book was not as exciting as reading the others because I wasn’t swayed by the red herrings.

Let’s talk about those red herrings.  There’s a couple of characters, Bobby McCorey and Marty Danforth, known as being the biggest bullies at Shadyside High, that are ridiculously upset about not getting invited to Justine’s party.  They threaten Justine, telling her that she better change her mind about not inviting them. They corner her outside the high school and practically assault her to the point where she screams out, “You’re hurting me!”  They also crash her party in spectacular fashion, driving their motorcycles into her house and getting into physical altercations with some of the party-goers, including Justine’s uncle. It reminds Terry, our main character, of Animal House but made me think of Weird Science.  Then Bobby and Marty assault a party-goer, David Sommers, who leaves to get help after one of the party guests turns up dead.  When David falls and hits his head on a gravestone, Bobby and Marty think he might be dead so they drag him out of sight and leave.  These guys are definitely horrible people, but since I had already figured out the twist, I just thought that they were over-the-top distractions and found it hard to believe they were this upset about not getting invited to a party that only nine people got invited to.

Another slightly red herring is party-goer Alex Beale, who used to be Terry’s best friend and Niki’s boyfriend.  That’s right – Niki dumped Alex and started dating his best friend. That made me feel some type of way about Terry and Niki because aren’t there codes about this kind of behavior?  Anyway, Alex still seems a bit upset (who can blame him), and when the nine party-goers decide to make the Halloween party a “jocks vs. wimps” event to see who can stay up all night in a supposedly haunted house, Alex takes it pretty seriously.  In fact, according to Niki, he’s “deadly serious.” Yeah okay. The next words should’ve been “RED HERRING” because it’s pretty obvious that’s what this was.

There are also some unexplained red herrings.  Terry and Niki both get threatening letters at school – a gross chicken head in Terry’s locker with a note telling him to stay away from the party and a note in Niki’s textbook telling her she’ll wish she was blind too.  I forgot to mention that Niki’s deaf, which apparently served the sole purpose of having her read Justine’s lips while at a pizza place. What did Justine say? “They’ll pay. Every one of them will pay.” Why this wasn’t enough to immediately give Terry and Niki second thoughts about the party I’ll never know.  I mean, they’ve just been invited to a nine-guest Halloween party in a possibly haunted mansion next to the Fear Street Cemetery by the new girl in town who nobody really knows. Nothing to see here folks! Somebody also slashed everyone’s tires at the party. It’s never revealed who did all of these pranks. It could’ve been Bobby and Marty or it could’ve been part of the pranks the party guests played on each other as part of the “jocks vs. wimps” thing.  It just seems that these particular pranks were way more threatening, and they were definitely written in a way to make the reader think more of them than the others. However, it doesn’t make sense that Justine would’ve tried to keep Terry and Niki from going to her party, although it’s possible that her uncle could’ve slashed the tires since he’s in on the revenge (to a certain extent). Regardless, these pranks are never cleared up, and they didn’t make me second-guess my plot theory.

One thing I liked about Halloween Party is that a couple of recurring characters had meatier roles.  Bobby is actually a character that appeared in The Wrong Number – he got into a fight with Deena’s half-brother Chuck and was one of the kids that Chuck prank calls.  Another character, Ricky Schorr, was part of the Outdoors Club in The Overnight.  Ricky gets an invite to Justine’s Halloween party, so right away we know he’ll be more than just a cameo.  And even better, while they’re playing a game called Truth – where you tell the worst thing you’ve ever done and other people vote on whether you’re lying or not – Ricky starts to mention his overnight experience on Fear Island but then says “I really can’t talk about it.”  I thought that was a great callback and a fun payoff for those reading these books in order. This also makes Ricky the first character to be directly involved in more than one terrifying Fear Street experience. Some other fun mentions – Niki tells Terry that her friends Deena and Jade weren’t invited to the party.  If you remember, Deena and Jade were our prank callers from The Wrong Number.  Finally, Lisa Blume returns for her fifth appearance – the most appearances of any Fear Street character thus far.  As I mentioned in a previous write-up, Lisa works on the high school newspaper, and in Halloween Party she’s described as being a gossip who “usually knew everything that was going on.”  In fact, it’s Lisa who gives us our page-eleven rundown that pretty much laid out the plot twist.  I wonder if Lisa will serve the same purpose in future books. If so, hopefully it’ll be done in a less revealing way.

Now for some fun asides.  At the start of the book, Terry is very surprised to hear that Justine lifts weights, letting out a low whistle and exclaiming, “Whoa!”  It’s hard for me to believe that this would’ve gotten such a reaction even in 1990 when Halloween Party was released, but anything’s possible.  Another fun aside has to do with Terry’s costume.  The party guests all wear costumes to the Halloween party as expected, and Terry goes dressed as a 1950s greaser complete with black chino pants, saddle shoes, a tight white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve, a dark jacket, and slicked back hair.  But he’s also apparently wearing a mask. Of what? Like a face? I just couldn’t figure out what mask he would possibly be wearing. After everything else he put on, I hardly feel like a mask was needed to really set things off. Finally, at her party, Justine turns on a song with “a relentless synthesized rhythm, over electronic-sounding voices repeating ‘Get your freak on, get your freak on,’ over and over.”  Either Missy Elliot was reading Fear Street when she was nineteen (unlikely) or R.L. Stine predicted her hit song “Get Ur Freak On” (much more likely). Is it as clear to you as it is to me? Stine is obviously a psychic specializing in early 2000s hip-hop. I mean, what other logical conclusion could I come to? None, but I’m open to suggestions.

‘Til we meet again…

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

 

Back to Fear Street – Haunted (Fear Street, #7)

Back to Fear Street – Haunted (Fear Street, #7)

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And…we’re back!  I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for my next Fear Street entry, and well, the wait is over.  So let’s talk about Haunted.  The seventh entry in the Fear Street series follows a girl named Melissa (“Lissa”) who’s being haunted by a ghost who’s trying to kill her, making this the first book in the series to delve into the supernatural.  It’s a basic premise that we’ve seen a thousand times in movies but with a couple of twists. And it’s because of these twists that I gave Haunted 1/5 stars on Goodreads.  That makes Haunted my lowest-rated Fear Street book thus far.  It was bound to happen sooner or later – can’t win ‘em all.  And one star is better than no stars, amirite? This is another post where I think spoilers are necessary, so consider this your first and final warning:

SPOILERS AHEAD!

So, Lissa is being haunted by a ghost named Paul.  He pops up in her bedroom where he tries to push her out of the window, and he even shows up in her brand new, shiny blue Pontiac Firebird (a birthday present from her dad) where he takes over her steering wheel and tries to run her off the road.  And when he’s not trying to kill her, he rips up all of her birthday presents during her party. Sassy! Paul eventually tells her that he plans to kill her because she killed him, except they’ve never met before and he doesn’t actually remember how she kills him because impaired memory is apparently a side effect of being dead.  Lissa eventually sees Paul out with his friends – and he’s totally alive! Obviously, this confuses the hell out of Lissa, but after seeing the live Paul a few times and the ghost Paul having no idea what she’s talking about, she figures out that ghost Paul is actually from the future and that he’s come back to prevent her from killing him.  Whew! Didn’t see that one coming, but I thought it was a pretty good twist. I’m sure there’s all kinds of plot holes and complications when you get into messy timeline situations, but all that’s usually over my head. So, yeah – pretty good twist. Lissa and ghost Paul then attempt to convince live Paul to stay away from Lissa so that he won’t get killed.

Another good twist is that while all of this is going on, Fear Street is being plagued by the Fear Street Prowler, and Lissa is rightfully terrified as she actually lives on Fear Street.  Well, it turns out that the prowler is none other than the live Paul. Once you find that out, it becomes pretty clear right away how Lissa could kill Paul.

Now the bad stuff.  R.L. Stine really doesn’t portray poor people very well in this book.  I first noticed that in the way he has one character go on and on about how horrible this girl’s clothes are.  She’s clearly disgusted by this girls “plastic pedal pushers,” her “tacky top with the fringe,” and her “white plastic boots.”  When she mentions how tacky the girl’s outfit is, Lissa responds, “She’s just poor, that’s all.” Meanwhile, Lissa shows up later wearing her own fringed top, but I’m sure it’s top-of-the-line as it’s made clear throughout the book that Lissa is rich (or at least her parents are).  Later, while Lissa is trying to figure out who ghost Paul is, she decides that he probably didn’t go to her high school, Shadyside High School, but to South because “ he said he was poor and everything.” South is then described as a “pit,” and another character mentions how she “unfortunately” knows all of the kids at South.  Lissa eventually makes her way to live Paul’s neighborhood which she describes as being “creepy” and “horrible” – this coming from the rich girl whose house is haunted. Finally, live Paul and his friends are just bad seeds – they’re constantly drinking and they’re always making very lewd and sexually suggestive comments to Lissa, not to mention literally running after her in a parking lot.  Plus, on more than one occasion Paul physically assaults her, grabbing her and refusing to let her go. He even says to her, “I don’t like it when rich, snobby girls hurt my feelings.” And let’s not forget that live Paul is the Fear Street Prowler, and the only time he’s portrayed as a decent guy is when he’s a ghost. So, the portrayal of poor people was off-putting, way too heavy handed, and didn’t really serve a purpose.

I also wasn’t a fan of all the convenient things that happened at the end.  Throughout the book Lissa complains about it being so hot in her room, and she often sleeps with her window open despite being terrified of the Fear Street Prowler.  Then at the end, while her parents are out of town, she decides it’s too hot to sleep in her room so she’ll sleep in theirs…because it’s air-conditioned! This whole time I’m just thinking, “Man, why don’t these people just turn on their AC,” when it turns out they’ve had air conditioning all along but for some reason not in Lissa’s room.  Who needs a new car for their birthday? I’ll take some ductwork please. I mean, her parents are rich right? Surely they can afford it. It seems that the revelation about Lissa’s lack of air conditioning at the end of the book is solely for the purpose of relocating her to her parents’ bedroom. Why? Well, it’s revealed rather early in the book that Lissa’s father keeps a gun in his nightstand.  And this just so happens to be the night when live Paul (aka the Fear Street Prowler) decides to break-in to Lissa’s house, and of course the window he comes in through is the window in Lissa’s parents’ bedroom. There’s a confrontation, and Lissa gets the gun but refuses to shoot Paul despite him being very threatening towards her. Eventually, ghost Paul shows up, and he’s able to take the gun away from live Paul and throw it to Lissa.  For some reason, he was never able to make live Paul see him, which surely would’ve caused live Paul to rethink his life choices. The gun accidentally goes off when Lissa grabs it, killing Paul. Instead of saving his own life, ghost Paul decides to save Lissa’s life because he didn’t want her to get hurt and because he cared for her. Even ghost Paul hates live Paul. Maybe I’m being overly critical, but by the time I got to the final showdown, I had already predicted everything that was going to happen and was a little underwhelmed by how all the elements came together.

Tallying everything up – I talked about two things I liked and two things I didn’t.  That should even out, but the bad stuff just really dragged the book down for me. Hence, my low Goodreads rating.

Now for the fun stuff.  We have some more recurring characters – Lissa’s best friend is Della O’Connor, the main character from The Overnight, and Della’s boyfriend is Pete Goodwin, who also appeared in The Overnight.  Della also makes a cameo in The Wrong Number, while Pete gets an honorable mention in Sleepwalker.  Neither of these characters play significant roles in Haunted, and for some reason Lissa never even tells Della about ghost Paul (or live Paul for that matter).  She only asks if she knows a student who died named Paul. A minor character from The New Girl and The Surprise Party that I’ve never mentioned before, David Metcalfe, also makes another minor appearance.  He’s basically the class clown of the Fear Street series, but maybe we’ll see him develop as the series continues.

Tom Cruise gets another mention as Lissa comes across a Tom Cruise/Paul Newman movie (I’m guessing The Color of Money).  She’s trying to take her mind off of being alone in her house, but the movie has too many commercials so she just turns the TV off.  I’m sure this is an indicator of just how nervous she is, but from my 2018 perspective, maybe also an indicator of how few TV options she probably has.  While her TV options may have been limited, Lissa’s clothing options certainly weren’t, and Haunted gives us a great description of 1980s clothing.  Haunted was copyrighted in 1990, but we all know that’s still basically the eighties  Lissa goes to a teen dance club with her boyfriend (who spends the book not believing Lissa when she tries to tell him about ghost Paul) dressed in a “sparkly midriff-length top and black Spandex bicycle shorts under a thigh-length purple skirt.”  It’s like the eighties exploded and landed perfectly on her body. Wait, there’s more – she’s sweating so much from all the dancing, so she wipes her forehead with a tissue “from the small bag belted around her waist.” If that’s not a fanny pack I don’t know what is.  And her outfit sounds like what I used to wear around my house to act out Kids, Incorporated – except I tied my bicycle shorts around my hair so I could “whip my hair” while performing “Tell It to My Heart.”  I didn’t care who was in the living room – that was my stage so watch me perform! Great times!

Finally, I don’t have any ghost stories of my own, but my grandmother told me that she used to always see her father’s ghost in her doorway when she was about to get sick and that my grandfather once saw a headless ghost while walking through the woods to work.  He dropped his lunch pail and ran all the way home. She also told me that her mother saw a ghost in a hallway when she was getting off of an elevator. I used to pray that the ghost of my Aunt Betty would visit me, but that never happened. I was always a bit scared of it actually happening, although she wouldn’t have threatened to kill me like ghost Paul.  But she would’ve definitely pinched the hell out of my cheeks. By the way, these weren’t the adorable prayers of a six-year-old. I was in high school, so it was more like The Craft.  Anyway, I usually believe ghost stories (although not of the ghost hunter variety), and I believe my grandmother.  I’m not so sure about ghosts from the future, but I’ll keep an open mind.

See you in July!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Back to Fear Street – The Sleepwalker (Fear Street, #6)

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Back to Fear Street – The Sleepwalker (Fear Street, #6)

Welcome back to Fear Street!  This is our sixth trip so far, and even though that’s not even the slightest dent in the Fear Street series, which includes fifty-two books from the original run and tons more from spin-off series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I still enjoy these books after all these years.  This outing was no different. The Sleepwalker is about…a sleepwalker.  Bet you didn’t see that coming!  Mayra Barnes is working for an older lady named Mrs. Cottler for the summer when she starts sleepwalking and waking up outside and sometimes in the lake.  She has no idea what’s causing her to sleepwalk but suspects that old Mrs. Cottler, who lives on Fear Street, is a witch and that she put a spell on her. And if sleepwalking wasn’t enough, there’s a strange man who keeps popping up and scaring Mayra.  Plus, Mayra’s ex-boyfriend, Link, and his sister, Stephanie, are also giving her grief over breaking up with Link and starting a relationship with her new boyfriend, Walker. Yes, the sleepwalker is dating a guy named Walker. This was totally lost on me, so kudos to Craig for pointing it out!  The Sleepwalker was a pretty fun read, and I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.  But it’s not without its problems, and I don’t think I can really discuss those without spoiling the plot.  So consider this your official warning: THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Turns out Mrs. Cottler is not a witch and not the cause of Mayra’s sleepwalking.  So her living on Fear Street also turns out to not matter very much, but I guess it makes it easier for Mayra to think she’s a witch.  The real culprit is…Walker, Mayra’s boyfriend. Walker’s not a witch, but he just so happens to be an aspiring professional magician, which is totally normal and not convenient for this story at all.  Throughout the book, he’s mainly seen doing little card tricks, but the big reveal is that he has been hypnotizing Mayra. Why has he been hypnotizing her? Well, apparently when they started dating, Walker was a pretty unstable guy who one day decided to steal a car from a parking lot and go on a joy ride with Mayra.  That joy ride ended up in them slamming into another car and sending it into the river, and the stranger who’s been bothering Mayra is one of the people who was in that car. He thinks Mayra was at fault and antagonizes her a bit when he sees her around town but helps her take down Walker in the end when he finds out the truth.  To keep Mayra quiet, Walker’s been hypnotizing her so that she’ll forget all about it, and her sleepwalking has been the result of her trying to deal with this event in her sleep because it was too upsetting for her to deal with it while awake. Not only has he been hypnotizing Mayra, but he’s also been seeing another girl behind her back and has just been pretending to still like Mayra to keep her close and make sure she doesn’t remember the accident.  I found all of this to be a bit unbelievable at first – that this straight-laced kid who did silly magic tricks actually turned out to be a criminal mastermind with the power of hypnosis. But then I thought of all the books I’ve read where a seemingly good character has been the devil-in-disguise all along and gave credit where credit was due – Walker pulled the wool over my eyes. Just like with Mayra!

And while we’re on the subject of Walker – that other girl he was seeing behind Mayra’s back was Suki Thomas, a name that might sound familiar as she appeared in The Surprise Party and The Overnight.  She was only briefly mentioned in my blog post for The Overnight, but I now have a bit more to say about Suki.  It’s been made clear whenever Suki comes up that she has a reputation for getting around, and it’s obvious that other girls think pretty lowly of her because of this although it’s never gone past her just having a bad reputation.  However, in The Sleepwalker she takes it a step further by dating Walker behind Mayra’s back.  It’ll be interesting to see if Suki winds up as the lead in her very own book since it seems like she has a few enemies of her own.  Suki’s not the only recurring character. Pete Goodwin, a member of the Outdoors Club from The Overnight, makes an appearance but by name only.  While Suki was actually connected to Mayra and Walker, she didn’t really factor in the main plot, and Pete just got an honorable mention.  So again the recurring characters are more like cameos.

Now something I had a bit of a problem with is Link’s behavior.  Mayra broke up with Link, and let’s just say he did not handle it very well.  He kept popping up wherever Mayra was, wanting to talk to her about their relationship.  In one particular incident, he sees her in the woods and decides to follow her. Mayra’s in the woods because she’s trying to figure out why she’s sleepwalking, but she tells Link that she’s there to meet Walker.  Link tries to convince Mayra to let him take her home. He grabs her arm and then tries to grab her with both arms when she pulls away. He continues to maintain his grip on her all while telling her that he misses her.  She yells out for him to let her go, but he says no and won’t let go. He then puts his arms around her waist and tries to kiss her, and after turning her face away she hits him in his left ear with her fist and gets away.  About thirty pages later, after the big Walker reveal, Mayra and Link are now a couple again. They’re laughing about all of Link’s creepy ways, and he says, “ ‘The only reason I was such a creep was that I cared about you so much.’ “  Um, what?!? I definitely don’t think Link’s character would be written the same today, and that’s a good thing. I understand he was still in love with Mayra and didn’t want to accept that their relationship was over, but stalking her and physically assaulting her shouldn’t have been the way to her heart.  But at least he admits to being a creep so…progress?

Finally, some fun asides.  It was a big reality check when I found out that Mayra’s mother was thirty-nine years old!!!  I’m thirty-six so this hit a bit too close to home. Another fun bit – Mayra and her best friend, Donna, are talking about random things including “the new Tom Cruise movie.”  This book came out in 1990, and it’s possible that in 2018 a couple of teenagers are still talking about the new Tom Cruise movie. Don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.  There’s also a little aside where Mayra says that she’s “ ‘going with Walker now.’ ” I just thought that was a fun little blast from the past. Can’t remember when I last heard someone say they were going with someone.  Finally, my edition of The Sleepwalker is actually from a library – St. Augustine High School’s library in fact.  And the blank checkout card in the back shows that nobody was checking out this book.  Maybe that’s because all the cool kids bought their copies instead!

Until next time!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

 

HAHC Monthly Roundup: April 2018

April was a productive month here at HAHC headquarters! Here’s a handy place to help keep up with all of our shenanigans.

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1.HAHC Episode 25: The Prowler

We kicked things off on April 5th with episode 25 of our podcast. We discussed the 1981 Film The Prowler, played some horror movie trivia (the movie quizzed about was Army of Darkness), and ended with our segment “What’s Making Us Scared”.

Listen:

On iTunes

Direct Download

2. Craig Loves Skeletor!

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On April 7th, we dropped a video on our Youtube channel, showcasing Craig’s original Masters of the Universe collection.

Be sure to subscribe to our channel for future mask and toy reviews, as well as round ups of conventions we attend!

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3. HAHC Nights 6: “Atlanta: Teddy Perkins”

On April 8th, the HAHC crew returned with another “nights” episode, in which we discussed the Southern Gothic/horror themed episode of Atlanta, “Teddy Perkins”.

Listen:

On iTunes

Direct Download

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4. Back to Fear Street: “The Wrong Number”

On April 9th, Kia reviewed the fifth novel in R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series. Discover how it ranks with the rest of the novels so far, and which characters from previous novels make appearances in this one, and just how dated are the cultural references of the hip young teens of the early 90’s?

Read it: here

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5. HAHC Episode 26: Ghoulies Go to College

Jumping to April 19th, the HAHC crew talked about the cinematic masterpiece Ghoulies Go to College, played another round of Half Assed Horror Trivia (this week’s movie we are quizzed on is Young Frankenstein), and as always, ended with our segment “What’s Making Us Scared”. Spoiler: Craig ranks Ghoulies Go to College as highly as he did Zodiac.

Listen:

On iTunes

Direct Download

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6. HAHC Mini Episode: “The Fate of Gizmo!”

Finally, in our last entry this month, on April 22nd we had a conversation on if it’s ethically sound to euthanize Gizmo the Mogwai in order to prevent future Gremlin outbreaks. Our listeners were polled for their opinion on the matter, then the HAHC crew weighs in. You might be surprised on how it all plays out. Or maybe not. Gizmo gotta die.

Listen:

On iTunes

Direct Download

That’s it for this month! We have a lot in the works for May, to include a podcast on Halloween 4, videos on this year’s Monsterpalooza, and more! Thanks so much for listening, watching and reading!

Back to Fear Street – The Wrong Number (Fear Street, #5)

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Back to Fear Street – The Wrong Number (Fear Street, #5)

And here…we…go!  I’m happy to report that I survived another trip to Fear Street!  Join me, won’t you, as I tell you all about what happens when you call…The Wrong Number.

So, the fifth entry in the Fear Street Series is another simple concept.  Our teen protagonists, Deena Martinson and Jade Smith, decide to make some prank phone calls on Deena’s brand spanking new phone.  Like a real phone. You know like the ones with a cord? So after making some innocent prank phone calls to some kids at their school, Deena’s half-brother Chuck, a bad seed who moves to Shadyside after getting expelled from his other school, gets involved.  And his prank calls are a lot less innocent – he calls in a bomb threat to a bowling alley and threatens another kid, saying that he’s the Phantom of Fear Street. Eventually, the three teens decide to stop with the prank phone calls after the bomb threat gets reported in the newspaper.  However, one night Chuck decides to make a random call to someone on Fear Street. Because he’s new in town, he doesn’t believe the crazy stories about Fear Street and is trying to prove that the people who live on Fear Street are just like everybody else. He call the first name he finds in the phone book with a Fear Street address, but his call is answered by a woman screaming that she needs help because someone is trying to kill her.  They hear a struggle and then a man’s voice telling them that it’s none of their business and that they got the wrong number. Instead of calling the police, they decide to go to the woman’s house. They see her stabbed and bleeding on the floor and get chased out of the house by a masked man. The woman dies, Chuck gets arrested for her death because his fingerprints are on the murder weapon (he picked it up in self-defense when the masked man tried to attack them), and Deena and Jade spend the rest of the book trying to prove his innocence and find the man behind the mask.

I gave The Wrong Number 3/5 stars on Goodreads.  It was a pretty entertaining book as all of the books in the Fear Street Series have been thus far.  Without fail, these books always suck me in and get me hooked. Unlike the others, though, I solved this mystery well before the ending of the book.  It was pretty clear to me who the man in the mask was, so when Deena and Jade have their “A-ha!” moment, I was like, “Oh, I thought we knew that already.”  The girls find out about halfway through the book, so Stine obviously didn’t intend for this to be the big mystery of the book. Once you find out who the man in the mask is, the story then becomes an old-fashioned sleuthing tale with Deena and Jade snooping around for evidence that the man in the mask is the real killer.  So there is no twist ending here. And that’s not a bad thing – all stories don’t need a twist. But it takes the wind out of my sails a bit when I’m a few steps ahead of the protagonists. Also, the way the three teens get involved with the woman’s murder made no sense to me. They didn’t want to call the police when they first called the woman because they would have had to explain how they made the phone call in the first place and they didn’t think the police would believe them.  Well, when they get to the woman’s house and see her on the floor, they then decide to call the police but get interrupted by the masked man. I just didn’t get this. Their reasons for not calling the police in the first place hadn’t changed, and they would have still had to explain how they randomly called the woman and ended up at her house. Maybe seeing her stabbed and bloody on the floor lit a fire under them, but she had said on the phone that someone was trying to kill her. And these kids were more worried about themselves than trying to help her.  So, yeah – definitely some shitty kids. But remembering how I was as a teenager, I probably would’ve done the same thing. It is an incredible and extended period of self-focus and self-preservation.

We again have some recurring characters.  Cory Brooks and Lisa Blume return for their fourth appearances, and Della O’Connor from The Overnight also pops up.  However, like I said in my last blog post, these recurrences continue to just be mere cameos rather than important plot points.  Here, Cory just happened to be at the bowling alley when Chuck called in his fake bomb threat, and he shows up at the end asking Deena if she really helped the police solve a murder.  Lisa is the assistant editor of the high school newspaper and wants a scoop from Deena about Chuck’s arrest and then later about how the three teens helped solve the murder. Della just pops up at the end and says, “Congratulations, Deena!”  So not relevant character recurrences at all. And really – the main common denominator in these stories so far is Fear Street, Cory Brooks, and Lisa Blume. Someone needs to investigate those kids.

Some interesting takeaways.  The Wrong Number was published in 1990, so a teenager getting their own house phone was a pretty big thing.  Case in point – when Jade sees Deena’s new phone, she says, “It’s pretty rad. It looks like the control panel for a jet plane or something.”  Deena even has to explain to Jade what all the buttons are for – programming numbers, putting someone on hold, using the speakerphone. I wish I could remember reading this book as a kid.  Did I read that exchange and think, “Man, can’t wait ‘til I get my own phone!” Or was I all cool kid and like, “Yeah, everyone knows what the buttons are for.” Who knows. But as an adult, I read it and thought that it was such a thing of the past.  That an exchange between two teenagers about the buttons on a brand new phone would probably be considered “retro.” And how I’m at the age when things from my childhood and even my teen years are considered “retro.” An example – a really good book I just read recently called One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus has a part where two teenage characters are watching a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon.  The show is described as their “latest obsession” but also as a “retro vampire show.”  That’s my favorite show of all time, so I was left feeling both extremely happy that the show is still so relevant in pop culture but also reminded that I’m getting old and that my childhood and teenhood loves are now retro.  So, yay? But anyway, I digress.

Another thing that might be considered retro – prank phone calls.  Do kids do these anymore in the age of cellphones where you can see who’s calling?  Growing up we had caller ID and *69, so prank phone calling was definitely not fail-proof.  Maybe prank phone calls are just too simple. There’s so much technology and social media hijinks for kids to get up to nowadays that a good, old-fashioned prank phone call would probably sound pretty lame.  But hey, they were simple and nobody got hurt. That’s right – I was a prank phone caller. But I only remember doing it once. I was going through a phonebook picking out random names, and I called this woman a few times and just hung up.  I was so tiny and smug (probably not that tiny), until she called back and demanded to know who kept calling her. I think she also threatened to report me. I quickly brainstormed like the tiny, smug genius I was and said that I had been watching my little sister and that she was making the calls but that she wouldn’t do it anymore.  Problem solved, and that was the last time I did that. Looks like I was a shitty kid too.

Ok, I’ve gone on long enough and hopefully you stuck around.  If you’re reading this, I guess you did. Thanks! Until next time…

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

 

Back to Fear Street – Missing (Fear Street, #4)

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Back to Fear Street – Missing (Fear Street, #4)

Welcome back to Fear Street!  This month’s outing, Missing, was another good one with some interesting flaws.  Again, the premise was simple – our main characters, Cara and Mark Burroughs, are siblings whose parents go missing.  The last time the siblings see their parents is a Tuesday morning at breakfast. They think their parents are busy at work as computer programmers, so they have some friends over Tuesday night but get concerned when their parents don’t show up that night and are still missing the next morning.  The rest of the book deals with them trying to find their parents. Overall, I liked this story and gave it 3/5 on Goodreads, but like I said it has its flaws. So let’s start with the good.

I’m pretty sure this is the first book where the protagonists actually live on Fear Street.  The siblings are new to the area but are quickly made aware of all the weirdness surrounding Fear Street and the woods behind their neighborhood.  Them living on Fear Street doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story or the twist, but I’m sure future books will be different. It’s also the first book in the series that is solely written in first person, with the perspective switching back and forth between Cara and Mark.  I enjoyed this format because it made the story seem more personal – I got to know exactly what Cara and Mark were thinking and felt more a part of their world. I also like when authors tell a story from different perspectives because the reader really gets to be the fly on the wall.

Another thing I liked about this story is that we have some more recurring characters.  Cory and his best-friend-turned-girlfriend Lisa from The New Girl and The Surprise Party make an appearance, as does two of Cory’s friends from the first two books and a character from The Surprise Party.  However, while I like seeing old characters pop up, I’m noticing that not much is being done with them.  They’re kind of just there, making little cameos but not really affecting the story in any way. This is fine, but I’m hoping that there’ll be some old characters popping up that are crucial to the story – maybe a character that seemed harmless before but turns up as a villain or vice versa.

Finally, R.L. Stine stumped me again!  A little ways into the book I was pretty sure I had a good idea what was going on and what the twist would be, but I was totally wrong.  Not even close. It’s time I accept my limitations.

Now to those interesting flaws I mentioned.  Cara describes her brother Mark as a serious no-nonsense type of guy that makes friends easily and that everyone likes.  But my initial reaction to Mark was “Wow, what an asshole!” One example – while the siblings are still questioning where their parents are that first night, Cara gets a bit upset, as could be expected.  And Mark says, “I got Cara calmed down in my usual way. I yelled at her and told her to shut up.” Like, who thinks something like that? A crazy person with anger management problems that’s who. Another example – when the siblings discover that their parents’ car is still in the garage and Cara suggests that they drive to their parents’ job, Mark kicks a rear tire and slams his fist on the trunk because he can’t decide between looking for his missing parents or going to school so he can take a math test and see his girlfriend.  WHAT?!? So now he comes off like a crazy person with anger management issues and a complete idiot. Maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky, but these are our early introductions to Mark, and it just doesn’t paint him in the best light. I’m not exactly sure why he was written this way as we learn pretty quickly that Mark is not a villain and that he’s not involved in his parents’ disappearance. It just struck me as an odd choice. Thankfully, Mark’s character improves as the book goes on, which makes it all the more strange as to why he was depicted in such a negative light in the first place.

Another big flaw that stuck out to me while reading Missing is a character being written in such a way that it was more than obvious that he was an antagonist.  Although to the author’s credit, this character had a twist of their own that I didn’t anticipate.

Now to some minor flaws that were more like personal annoyances and probably make me sound more like Mark than I’d like.  When interacting with a character for the first time, Cara thinks, “I guess he was handsome. But with his white-blond hair, pale skin, and sparkling white teeth, he was practically an albino!”  Geez, if I was an albino kid reading this I’d be pretty offended. Another minor flaw – Mark and Cara visit a coworker of their parents and instead of telling him straight out that their parents are missing, they act like it’s a big secret and instead just ask the coworker if he has their parents’ work number.  Given the severity of the situation, I just didn’t understand why they felt the need to be so secretive. Finally, I’m no expert on sentence structure or grammar, but there was a sentence that I had to read more than once because I was surprised that it made it into the book. While thinking about his girlfriend, Mark says to himself, “I kept hearing her voice again and again, hearing her words again as she told me we couldn’t see each other again.”  I added the word in bold for emphasis.  I know I’m being overly critical and the book was written for teens, but I think using “again” four times in a sentence just sounded really awkward.  I came across a website, 17 Fantastic Examples of Repetition in Literature, which differentiates between unintentional repetition which sounds awkward and sloppy and intentional repetition us a purposeful literary device and gives examples of the latter.  I think the sentence in Missing is an example of unintentional repetition as it indeed sounds pretty awkward and sloppy.

So, I covered the good and the bad and now on to the funny – or at least funny to me.  At the start of the story while Cara and Mark are having their little party, mention is made of a CD player being “really cranked up.”  This probably isn’t very funny to you, but it’s funny to me because I had no idea that in 1990, when this book was written, CD players were mainstream enough to be mentioned in a teen horror novel.  A brief Google search showed that the first CD audio players were marketed in 1982 and sold for a whopping $900 and that portable CD players were introduced in the mid-1980s but didn’t become popular until the 1990s.  This was news to me because I was born in 1982 but don’t think I became aware of CD players until the 1990s. And I didn’t think they would catch on (silly me), so I kept buying tapes until the 11th grade when my first CD purchases were TLC’s FanMail album (with “No Scrubs”) and Eminem’s mainstream debut The Slim Shady LP.  I was a bit late, but hey, better late than never right?  And you’re welcome for that brief (hopefully correct) history of the CD player.

I’m almost done – I swear.  My finale involves cereal and Coke, two things that I didn’t think went together and I’m pretty sure I’m right.  So, when our siblings’ parents are still gone Wednesday morning, the kids look around for something to eat for breakfast and find a box of cornflakes but no milk.  They apparently don’t waste time deciding to just pour a bottle of Coke on the cereal instead, and they conclude that “actually, it didn’t taste that bad.” I find that extremely hard to believe.  Just thinking about it makes me nauseous and transports me back in time to my own cereal horror story. My story didn’t involve cornflakes but Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, and it took place while I was at my dad’s house for the weekend and when electric juicers were super popular.  Like Cara and Mark, I too had cereal but no milk. So my dad, who was really into juicing, thought a good substitute would be juiced apples…over Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. It was the stuff of nightmares – like a Double Dare stunt or an inspiration for Fear Factor. I’m dry heaving just thinking about it.  So yeah, I don’t believe that Coke and cornflakes actually didn’t taste that bad.

Ok, I know I spent most of this blog post talking about the negatives, but after all of my criticisms, I still enjoyed Missing enough to give it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.  The story was good, entertaining, and kept me guessing, so even though the flaws started to add up, I think they were outweighed by the positives.  Until next time…

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Back to Fear Street – The Overnight (Fear Street, #3)

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Back to Fear Street – The Overnight (Fear Street, #3)

It’s that time again – time to go Back to Fear Street!  I must confess that I was a bit nervous about this third trip.  My memories of Fear Street have been pretty rose-colored, and after reading the first two entries in the series and being somewhat underwhelmed, I was concerned that my return to the series would not live up to my own hype.  But I’m happy to report that the The Overnight was a great ride!  The premise is simple – six members of the Outdoors Club at Shadyside High decide to take an overnight trip to Fear Island, a small, uninhabited island in the middle of a lake in Shadyside, Ohio that, much like Fear Street, is shrouded in mystery and has its own creepy rumors, including rumors of ghosts and mutated animals.  However, the club’s trip gets sabotaged when one of the students, our main character Della O’Connor, has a run-in with a stranger.  I enjoyed my third outing more than the first two, so I gave The Overnight 4/5 stars on Goodreads.  It was sitting at 5/5 stars, but there were some things that I wasn’t a fan of, including a deus ex machina-type of situation to explain away a significant plot point, internal thoughts of characters that were at times inconsistent, and an ending that was a bit too convenient.  However, the good far outweighed the bad.

There were a lot of things I liked about The Overnight.  Before even getting to the actual story, I have to point out that I have an original copy from 1989, so there were no unnecessary updates like in The New Girl and a couple of great references that surely made more sense to a reader in 1989 than a reader today.  During a car chase scene, one of the characters does a maneuver and says, “‘That’s an old Kojak trick!’”  Considering that Kojak was a TV series that ran in the 1970s, it makes sense that it was referenced in a 1989 young adult book.  Maybe in the updated version of The Overnight, the character does the cool driving maneuver and says, “That’s an old Vin Diesel trick!”  The other great reference is from a conversation our main character, Della, has with her mother.  Before going on the trip, Della’s mother says, “‘If anything bad happens, you’ll call me right away, right?’”  Della responds, “‘Call you?  On what?  I’ll tell you what – I’ll send up a smoke signal, okay?’”  I loved this interaction!  It’s easy to forget in 2018 how people were once so disconnected, so Della’s response really reminds the reader just how isolated the Outdoors Club will be.

Turning to the story, The Overnight was really easy to get into.  It follows a similar pattern as the first two books – a character does something or gets involved with someone and starts getting threatening messages.  However, what stood out to me with The Overnight was that it’s well-paced.  It covers a small period of time – about two weeks – and unlike The New Girl, the characters in The Overnight don’t make silly decisions to move the story along.  Rather, their decisions seem to make sense for the story and are not merely devices to push the story forward.  I also found the characters in The Overnight to be less stilted than in the previous two books.  They each had different personalities and spoke in a way that seemed natural for teenagers, and I really enjoyed the banter between the characters.  We also get another return character.  We had some return characters in The Surprise Party, and a character briefly mentioned in that book, Suki Thomas, gets a bigger role in The Overnight as a member of the Outdoors Club.  As I mentioned in my last Back to Fear Street post, the recurring characters really give the Fear Street series an insular feel, so I was happy to see that continue in the third outing.

The Overnight also has a genuinely creepy first encounter between Della, our main character, and the stranger in the woods.  It was an initially innocent dialogue but with something sinister underneath.  It was like if you met Max Cady, the villain from Cape Fear (the 1991 version with Robert De Niro as Cady), while out in the park.  The two of you would probably have a perfectly normal conversation, but it would definitely get very weird, very fast.  If you’ve seen the 1991 remake of Cape Fear, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.  If not, you should really stop reading this and check it out – it’s a good movie!  This initial encounter really stuck out to me because I don’t remember such an intense scene being in either of the first two books.  It was a fun (and pleasantly uncomfortable) scene to read!

One last thought – like the first two Fear Street books, The Overnight does a good job with appearing deceptively simple.  I go into them thinking, “Well, this guy is obviously the bad guy,” and I’ve been wrong every time, or at least not 100% right.  The books stumped me as a kid, and they’re still stumping me now.  I honestly wasn’t expecting that.  I assumed since I’m older and my literary choices have grown in “level of difficulty,” I would be able to spot the twists a mile away.  But maybe the Fear Street series actually does hold up after all these years, and maybe R.L. Stine can construct a thoroughly entertaining whodunit that can appeal to all ages.

I still have a long way to go, but I’m hopeful that the kinks were worked out in the first two books and the series will come into its own with The Overnight.  We shall see on my next trip Back to Fear Street!

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’